A coronavirus outbreak has struck a church in Sanford, infecting at least five people and potentially exposing others, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday.

Calvary Baptist Church on High Street had at least five confirmed cases among people “affiliated with the church,” the Maine CDC said in a news release.

The church’s pastor, Todd Bell, posted a tweet on Aug. 6 saying he was headed to northern Maine for a wedding. On Aug. 7, there was a wedding and reception in Millinocket that violated state guidelines for large gatherings and has been linked to more than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases, including one death.

Multiple attempts by the Press Herald to reach Bell and confirm he was the officiant at the wedding have been unsuccessful. State public health officials continue to track the connection between the wedding and subsequent cases, but will not identify individuals.

“The epidemiological investigation into this outbreak remains underway,” Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement Saturday night. “As part of the investigation, Maine CDC is working to determine the extent of links to other outbreaks in York and Penobscot counties, including the outbreak associated with the Millinocket wedding and reception.”

A licensed pilot, Bell operates Wings With the Word, a mission of the church to spread the gospel and establish churches in remote parts of the state. Part of that outreach is a daily radio address. In the segment that aired Aug. 6, Bell said he was headed to northern Maine to perform the wedding of a couple he’d known since birth, intending to be there for the wedding rehearsal and the perform the wedding the next day.

The York County Jail is currently seeing a major outbreak, with dozens of cases linked to the wedding reception outbreak in Millinocket early this month that directly or indirectly led to the infection of 123 people and one death.

Health authorities are notifying people who were in close contact with confirmed patients in the Sanford outbreak, but they also warned that “anyone who attended services at Calvary Baptist Church” from Aug. 9-23 or attended the church’s Vacation Bible School from Aug. 10-14 “was potentially exposed.”

People affiliated with the church should watch for symptoms of COVID-19, which include cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue or body aches, the Maine CDC said. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should not go to work or attend gatherings.

Attempts to reach representatives of Calvary Baptist Church for an interview have been unsuccessful.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.


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